Set math exam based on disciplines: lecturer

A university academic has recommended that the Year 13 math exam is set based on the disciplines that the students choose to study in university.

This is the view of National University of Samoa (NUS) economics lecturer, Peniamina Muliaina, who initially taught math for 30 years before he switched to economics.

He said the standard of math in Samoa has dropped with the country witnessing its worst result in 2014 when only 17 out of 1369 students passed the exam.

"I have been teaching math for over 30 years and economics for 10 years. The Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.) sends the Samoa School Leaving Certificate results to us every year for our enrollment, and I have done my analysis on the marks since 2006,” he said. "Exams used to be set from Fiji but the reason that Samoa started setting our own exams was to set the exams based on what is taught here in Samoa. How they go about doing it was the problem. The exams, not just math, were unnecessarily too difficult. More difficult from the standard that was set from Fiji, so it was self-defeating because of the approach that was taken when the exam papers were set here."

Mr Muliaina said the 2014 math exam paper was difficult and teachers complained about it. Upon further scrutiny, he said he found two questions in the exam that can be considered advanced math which is done at the N.U.S. foundation level.

The academic also claimed that the current math exam format only benefited students who wanted to major in science, but not other streams such as commerce, arts and general studies students. 

"The current math paper favors science students because they are always good in math. There are components in math papers that students study from arts, commerce and generally will never use,” he added. “How to make it end (poor exam results) is to have a different paper for each discipline. Topics like geometry and trigonometry should not be in the math paper for other disciplines. Algebra and calculus should be included for every other discipline paper.”

The recommendations to set the math exam based on the different disciplines was raised with the university management four years ago.

“I started to raise this idea with our dean in 2015 but it needs collaboration and it needs discussion with M.E.S.C.," he added.

The use of trick questions in an exam also came under scrutiny with Mr Muliaina lamenting the alleged insertion of what he described as “trick questions” into the exam.

"Some examiners, they like to add trick questions. What is the purpose? The only thing that matters is the students understanding the question. There are no trick questions when these kids go out into the real world,” he added. “To make it so difficult, it defeats the purpose of education and I think that's what is happening in some of the papers that I have seen. Some students are only taking these papers because it's a core subject, then after foundation, they will never take that paper again."

Mr Muliaina further added that math is beneficial and those setting the exam should not make it difficult as not all students will pursue careers in math.  

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